My friend Gib Uhrich died last week. He was 89 years old and still kept a few cows and horses and worked at making hay with help from a neighbor. He was a small, wiry man whose strength was surprising for a person of his size and age. He might be described as a “character.” He died suddenly, although he had not been feeling well for a time. Even so, not feeling well had not stopped him from doing his daily chores.
Gib was not a world famous person. Even though he worked hard, he never accumulated vast material wealth. Still, many people knew Gib. He had, after all, been around for a long time, worked at many jobs, and he really liked people.
He loved to talk and to tell stories. He had a story for every situation and he had a knack for storytelling. He set the stage for his tale, described the characters involved and included meticulous details. His stories usually had a point and a connection to whatever was happening in the present. Like all story tellers, Gib told his tales from his point of view. Perhaps some of the details had evolved with decades of retelling, but I was always amazed at his ability to recall dates, places and people’s names. He should have written a book.
Gib and I shared a love for sheep. He had raised sheep for years and he never neglected to ask me how lambing was going in the spring, how the pastures were in the summer and if I had gotten my ram in with the ewes in the fall. I heard stories of lambs climbing the stairs of an old house he used as a barn, sheep which died in the gate after being blinded by a raging blizzard, and rams he chained together so they couldn’t back up and ram each other head to head. He gave me good advice when I asked for it but never told me I was doing things wrong if I did something differently than he had. He loved horses and cows and his animals kept him lean and strong, with a purpose for getting up in the morning.
Gib was a generous person. He was quick to offer help to move cows, to help solve problems with old tractors, and to provide extra hay if he had some. He helped many people in his long life, whether he received thanks or not. As he grew older, he learned to be able to ask for and to accept help himself. He never forgot to say, “Thank you.” When I talked to him last week, he was still thanking me for my help in reviving a chilled and hungry calf more than a year ago and was expressing appreciation for my husband’s more recent help with a lame cow. A call from Gib was always a bright interlude in my day.
Gib’s family was a source of joy and pride for him. He loved his wife, his children and his grandchildren and their children. If he missed telling them how much he cared for them, he didn’t hesitate to puff up his chest and tell others how wonderful they are.
Gib was not a saint. He was a flawed human being like the rest of us. He knew how to swear and probably didn’t let go of hurtful things others may have done. He liked his beer and maybe embellished his stories.
He was a good man who lived his life as it came.
Perhaps that is what a meaningful life is about: loving family, working hard, being kind, being generous, being thankful, and telling good stories.
Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains